Donald Trump is the bull in a china shop, and I mean that in the nicest way. His competitors, delicate breakables, are lined up on the shelf, concerned that any bold move could topple them to the ground. They come off as typical politicians, cautious, fragile, and unwilling to deviate from the constraints of their carefully contrived scripts.
The china in this shop is not presented as pricey or rare. The candidates seem stiff, colorless, uniform, similarly Washington-ized. If one falls from the shelf, another can be ordered in a matter of minutes. New Republican candidate needed on aisle three. Get a few more Democrats for the checkout stand. Stock is a little low.
Trump, on the other hand, is big, snarling, unapologetic, and even reckless. He is bullish on America or on what it could become if he is given the reins. He knows what he wants and claims he knows how to get it. He is the alpha male, the big cheese who continues to demonstrate commanding knowledge—or at least chutzpah—on economics, foreign policy and illegal immigration. He calls other politicians “losers” and “terrible negotiators;” and he comes off as believable. He is the father figure who says he can set our nation on the right path and “make America great.”
Does Trump know his stuff, politically speaking? Can he use the art of the deal to gain traction for America in the world arena? Those who say “yes” might argue that he is in a unique position as a seasoned executive with multiple business ventures. He has experience on international relations. He has the inside track, yet he is not a political insider. He has been in the negotiating room with big wigs around the globe, yet he is not beholden to anyone. He is the quintessential outsider with secret insider knowledge.
This leads us to hope. In an odd way, Trump is the Obama for 2016. He stirs up those same “yes we can” feelings that touched so many in 2008. He can fund his own campaign so our worries about “the influence of special interests” fade. He refuses to conform to the party line—any party line—so those feelings of handlers controlling him are similarly not a concern. He is arguably a nonpartisan who wandered into the Republican room. Might he shock everyone and choose an Independent or a liberal (perhaps a female Mexican-American) as a running mate? Anything seems possible. He is the reality star who seems less fakey than his non-reality star competitors. Go figure. He comes off as authentic, down to earth (in an admittedly arrogant way), straight-talking, and even trustworthy.
The pundits, reporters, and elected officials who say Trump supporters are “right-wing crazies” are wrong. Based on my own unofficial survey, as well as a recent Washington Post / ABC poll, Trump has supporters across the board. There are Independents—and even some Democrats—who may vote for him. Many in my informal survey tell me they are leaning toward Team Trump; that is, if they can get past one major hurdle. That hurdle is fear.
They worry that Trump’s brashness and tendency to blurt out whatever is on his mind might propel America into war. This is Trump’s greatest weakness. His biggest weakness is strength, too much strength, too much unbridled emotion, too much refusal to compromise. He seems incapable of darting into the corner to strategize and regroup, to listen to advisors and experts. He is so bold that he could make our country amazingly great. He is so bold that he could lead us into unfettered disaster. It could go either way. The other candidates, by comparison, seem routine. They come off as maintainers of the status quo, unlikely to do anything incredible, but equally unlikely to cause great harm.
Can Trump get out of his own way? Can he temper this impressive boldness with a sprinkle of professorial restraint, the quality for which Barack Obama and Al Gore are known? It is possible, but it will be difficult because Trump sees himself as a forceful and decisive; and he loves the limelight. He seems to view hesitation or temporarily stepping back as a form of weakness. He likes being in the center ring, charging at those red capes and tearing them to shreds. He has done it many times. It’s how he became a billionaire and business tycoon.
The fear factor affects voters. People go to the voting booth wondering if electing a particular candidate will hurt. Will he or she bring higher taxes? Will I lose my health care? Will my country end up in war? Will I have a job next year? Will criminals get released from jail and come to my house and kill me? If Trump really wants to be President, he needs to convey that he is both a bold choice and a safe one. That is his challenge.
He can huff and puff and blow down his competitors’ houses, but the semblance of (and hopefully the existence of) a little calm analysis and introspection is required if he truly wants to win.
Published in Huffington Post on July 20, 2015